Author: Sarah Porter
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children.
Synopsis (taken from GoodReads): What happens to the girls nobody sees—the ones who are ignored, mistreated, hidden away? The girls nobody hears when they cry for help?
Fourteen-year-old Luce is one of those lost girls. After her father vanishes in a storm at sea, she is stuck in a grim, gray Alaskan fishing village with her alcoholic uncle. When her uncle crosses an unspeakable line, Luce reaches the depths of despair. Abandoned on the cliffs near her home, she expects to die when she tumbles to the icy, churning waves below. Instead, she undergoes an astonishing transformation and becomes a mermaid.
A tribe of mermaids finds Luce and welcomes her in—all of them, like her, lost girls who surrendered their humanity in the darkest moments of their lives. The mermaids are beautiful, free, and ageless, and Luce is thrilled with her new life until she discovers the catch: they feel an uncontrollable desire to drown seafarers, using their enchanted voices to lure ships into the rocks.
Luce’s own talent at singing captures the attention of the tribe’s queen, the fierce and elegant Catarina, and Luce soon finds herself pressured to join in committing mass murder. Luce’s struggle to retain her inner humanity puts her at odds with her friends; even worse, Catarina seems to regard Luce as a potential rival. But the appearance of a devious new mermaid brings a real threat to Catarina’s leadership and endangers the very existence of the tribe. Can Luce find the courage to challenge the newcomer, even at the risk of becoming rejected and alone once again?
Cover impressions: Sometime after Stephenie Meyer’s “Breaking Dawn” was unleashed upon the world and the media was scrambling for the next big creature in YA, mermaids was tossed around as a possible substitute for vampires and werewolves, partly influenced by Meyer herself admitting to having a mermaid story in mind for a future novel. While this hypothesised craze never really came to fruition, there is a number of mermaid-related YA stories awaiting release or already in bookshops from the past year or so.
Sarah Porter’s debut, yet another first in a series, takes the mermaid mythos that has more in common with Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” than the incredibly sanitised Disney adaptation. While the mermaid and siren tradition has a rich and fascinating mythos, it’s not one that’s been explored very often in YA and Porter’s reinterpretation of themes from The Odyssey along with fairy tales of both Andersen and the Grimm Brothers is one of the strongest elements of the book. The story is unrelentingly bleak for the most part – girls are turned into mermaids after having suffered unimaginable abuse and pain at the hands of humans to the point where they give up on humanity. The mermaids live in a matriarchal society and use their siren-like voices to crash ships and kill those on board as a form of revenge for what humanity did to them. It definitely made a refreshing change from the stock paranormal format that has oversaturated the market.
Most of my problems with the book fall at the feet – or tail – of the protagonist Luce. She has a standard neglected orphan set-up which just manages to avoid falling into maudlin soap-opera territory (only just), and she does have some interesting moments, especially in her complex relationship with head mermaid Catarina. However, she veers from naive little girl to tortured hero with a passive martyr complex. I think most of these problems are the result of Porter’s prose, which is often clunky and repetitious but reasonably serviceable for the most part, except with Luce’s internal monologue. Her characterisation has a lot of potential – her coming to terms with what happened to her, discovering her new powers, wanting to fit in and stick to the mermaid code but still having her humanity – but it felt a little black and white at times, especially since practically none of the other mermaids had these issues. By the end of it all, Luce is the super special mermaid to end all super special mermaids and it’s so overdone. I was much more intrigued by Catarina’s story but Porter tries to introduce far too many characters so nobody is really given any time to truly develop beyond being abused girls turned vengeful mermaids. Most of the time it’s hard to remember which one is which since their personalities are so similar that they end up merging together. Things aren’t helped when even more characters are introduced with even less development. If you’re going to use something like abuse as a developmental point in a character’s life, you’d better make sure you do it well for fear of coming across as lazy and exploitative. In this case it’s more the former.
The plot is so deathly slow I didn’t think there was one for the most part. I understand Porter wanting to develop the mermaid way of life, and there is a lot of often repeated detail in this book, but it plods along at such a snail’s pace that I found myself getting bored on more than one occasion. Things pick up towards the end but you can’t just rush a plot 2/3s of the way through to make up for the rest of the book. Many interesting questions are raised, especially pertaining to the mermaids’ powers and their own twisted version of judgement, but few are answered. It’s a world that never truly reaches its potential.
If mermaids are to be the new creatures that fill our paranormal YAs in the future then I hope their worlds are at least as interesting as the one in “Lost Voices”. The mythos is clearly begging for some interesting interpretations and Porter gives us one that is bleak, complex and brimming with possibilities, which I hope it fulfils with the rest of the series. However, the plotting needs some serious work as does the characterisation of the supporting cast. There is definitely potential for Porter to develop and grow as a writer which will drastically improve the series but as this book stands, it’s not without merit but I was left with too many questions and too many problems.
"Lost Voices" will be released in USA on July 4th. I received my e-ARC from NetGalley.com.